We live in an era of conspicuous consumption. After all, what’s the point to living the luxe life if you can’t show it off?
In the near future, the newest must-have item for the privileged set may well be cultured meat products. Although, I predict the plated products will be far from a delicacy worthy of the price tag.
A novel delicacy
In May, The Wall Street Journal’s The Future of Everything column turned its attention to the rapidly advancing field of cultured meat – also known as cell-based, lab-grown or clean meat – and how it will arrive on plates around the world.
The cell-based products are winning a lot of attention, and investment, but no one is selling anything to anyone just yet. When cultured meats do debut for the public, the price of the dish will be eye popping. Purveyors of cultured meat see this fundamental problem as an issue that can be overcome by savvy marketing.
The product is fabulously expensive, so why not sell it as a luxury item? If this strategy pays off, the thinking goes, the masses will see the cultured meat products as an aspirational indulgence enjoyed by the upper classes rather than an overpriced imitation foodstuff.
The article quoted one executive of a cultured meat firm who said, “We don’t want to go for low-range, low-cost, low-price product.” His company, Aleph, is developing a product it calls steak that costs $50 to produce.
Will it sell?
I understand these companies are trying to do something that’s never been done before and make money. I can respect that. Nevertheless, I see two important issues with this concept.
Unless some kind of great leap forward occurred without my knowledge, the science of cell culturing isn’t advanced enough to produce a product that has the same characteristics as a coveted cut of meat. Right now, technicians can produce muscle cells reliably but replicating the blood vessels, connective tissue and fat that compose a juicy steak is still out of reach.
It looks like the products that will likely be easiest to produce and available the soonest will be small bits of cultured meat mixed with plant-based protein in nugget form, or perhaps a ground burger product, and the small strips of muscle cells. That, to me at least, isn’t a premium product worth the lofty price tag.
Furthermore, as a group of companies talking a strong game about wanting to help feed a hungry world in an era of shrinking resources, this marketing approach is hypocritical. Cell-based meat as a novelty product available only for the fortunate few isn’t going to do much to address the very serious problems animal agriculture and world agriculture deal with daily.